Heavenly Sword – “Copying a Masterpiece”
When Sony was getting cornered by Microsoft’s absurd amount of exclusives and almost complete third party support, they did what any company would’ve done: pump up the production costs of their first party titles. One of said examples was “Heavenly Sword”, Sony’s attempt at getting “God of War 3” to arrive earlier than it would. The job was handed down to the “Ninja Theory” team, which clearly had a huge amount of money to make the fans forget about “God of War”. Regrettably, it seems they had neither the time nor the skill to pull that off.
As far as mimicry goes, “Heavenly Sword” is as shallow and mediocre as “God of War” was perfect. Combat system is, for obvious reasons, one of the more important aspects of an action oriented game and “God of War” featured a nicely balanced roster of combos with intuitive weaknesses and strengths that made each one useful for a particular kind of enemy and/or situation. “Heavenly Sword” tries to accomplish the same, but fails to provide any engaging battle mechanics due to the low difficulty of the game, the small variety of enemy templates and the simple minded nature of all combos, which makes them all seem like the same. They do look pretty though, as fast paced and flashy as the ones in “God of War”…
The other element that made “God” a success was the level design that transpired a carefully laid pacing, making the game a rapid succession of crescent climaxes. Its take on arcade action “motifs” masked in a linear action adventure style progression only worked because of this rhythmic directing, that continuously enhanced the player’s sense of entertainment. This was made all the more apparent by bosses that were epic in size and nature, delivering the final note in the player’s epic roller coaster of emotions. There is little, if any, of this care in “Heavenly Sword”, as levels’ structures seem randomly placed, with no “crescendo” to speak of in terms of scale or difficulty, bosses are linear and predictable, and lack any “awe factor”. Besides that, there are some really awkward levels that consistently break the pace, where all you have to do is shoot these crazy controllable arrows in slow-mo, in a mini-game of sorts that is so boring and dull that it can make you wish you’d be playing “Duck Hunt” on the NES. There are some supposedly epic set pieces, where the player must kill hundreds and hundreds of enemies, but for obvious reasons, this hack and slash fare is quick on the boring side… one look at “Dynasty Warriors” would suffice to understand that “too much” is, more often than not, equal to “too boring”.
So, it is fair to say that money can’t buy everything, but there are some things money can buy. On technical and production levels, “Heavenly Sword” shines, boasting incredibly detailed environments that push the PS3 to its graphical boundaries, a completely orchestrated soundtrack (by Nitin Sawhney) that is as grandiose as it is well composed, and even some of the best voice acting in the industry (most notably, a part by Andy Serkis who played Smeagol). The game’s setting: a curious mix of eastern mythology and comic book style dark fantasy, gives birth to beautiful and astonishing oriental landscapes, populated by polychromatic, vibrant characters, as well as “wall of china big” monuments in various architectonic styles. Sadly, this setting, along with the good voice work is wasted due to an unbalanced script (penned by Terry Pratchett’s daughter) that tends to privilege one-off British comedy lines over dramatic scenes, more in tune with the themes at hand. Shame though, since there was a lot of care in producing convincing and expressive character models and animations. Eyes, cheeks and mouths move realistically and even the sets and costumes are used to convey certain character’s personalities. But all this falls flat, because of the dark comedy tone that lurks in every scene. The end result is neither a witty, black comedy nor a grand, dramatic epic, but a twisted hybrid that fails both fronts.
There is nothing truly remarkable about “Heavenly Sword”; everything it does reasonably well has already been done in better fashion by “God of War” or can just be seen as a byproduct of Sony’s megalomaniac production policies. The result is nothing short of uninspired, completely forgettable; and you can be sure that this not the PS3 exclusive that Sony needed to gain momentum in the raging console war. To assume that a balanced blockbuster formula, like that of “God of War’s” can be copied in such a straightforward manner was a mistake, and Ninja Theory learned that the hard way. If anything, “Heavenly Sword’s” greatest achievement is reminding people why “God of War” is an entertainment masterpiece.